When one thinks about progressive politics, it is likely that rural Pennsylvania is not the first location to come to mind. That is exactly where we should be looking this election season, however, to Lancaster, PA — in Jess King’s campaign for Pennsylvania’s 11th District of the U.S. House of Representatives. The nation watched in surprise this past spring, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Rep. Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th District. Crowley, a ten-term incumbent, was defeated by nearly 15 percentage points. The Crowley campaign spent 17 times as much money as the Ocasio campaign, but this victory demonstrated that for once, money isn’t everything in politics. We are seeing the impact of this victory more clearly as general elections approach, drawing increased attention to similar progressive campaigns across in the country, such as Randy Bryce of Wisconsin, vying for Paul Ryan’s former seat — a race that recent polls suggest is a toss-up. I believe that we have another shockwave opportunity, and this time, one not too far from campus.
Among King’s pledges, one stands before the rest — the promise not to take corporate or PAC money. Among progressive campaigns, this has proven itself to be a major selling point, as it means that mega-donors or wealthy hedge-funds never even get the chance to influence the candidate or the campaign. Given the fact that a New York Times poll found that a majority of Americans feel that money in politics is a serious issue that requires a “complete overhaul” of the campaign finance system, it is important that we do not understate the excitement that a grassroots-funded campaign can generate. King’s campaign is funded by small, individual contributions, unlike that of her opponent, incumbent Republican Lloyd Smucker. As the Center for Responsive Politics notes, Smucker is almost entirely being funding by PACs and corporations, especially insurance companies and party leadership organizations. This grassroots method of fundraising sends a signal that King will be responsible to her constituents, not corporations.
King’s campaign does not merely use the grassroots to gain traction — it is completely built around it. King holds regular town hall meetings to engage with voters and to allow for a comfortable public space where people can voice their concerns. Smucker, however, has not held a single town hall during this campaign season. The failure to engage meaningfully with voters sends a clear message that Smucker feels so confident in his likelihood of victory that he does not even need to hear the voices of potential voters. The lack of engagement with voters from Smucker also suggests that he fears the extreme disapproval from constituents that he would face in a public forum. If you do not feel as though your voice matters to a candidate, I believe that it is incredibly unlikely that you will feel any substantial motivation to vote for or support them. On the other hand, demonstrating that, as a candidate, you actually care about the voice of the people is much more motivating and invigorating.
Of course, a campaign is nothing without a platform. Rejecting the fear tactics of the right-wing, King embraces a solidly progressive platform. On health care, she pushes for a single-payer system of Medicare for All, under which everyone would be insured, affirming healthcare as a human right. Conversely, Smucker was a major proponent of the “American Health Care Act,” a piece of legislation that threatened to remove the protections of the Affordable Care Act, and would have removed healthcare access from a significant portion of the population. King supports Wall Street regulation and modern restrictions on money in politics She supports the full reinstatement of the Voting Rights Act, a crucial piece of legislation that offered safeguards against the mass voter-suppression efforts we are seeing from the Republican party. In addition, King’s platform is locally centered. She understands the importance of agriculture to Lancaster, and as such she has vowed to support and introduce legislation that will use antitrust powers to ensure that local farmers are able to make a living without being smothered in the shadow of the corporate monoliths, such as Walmart, that have overtaken their regional production. Smucker, on the other hand, supported the July 2018 Farm Bill, which would have incentivized mass-scale farming and reduced funding for conservation efforts, PRI notes. The legislation that Smucker supports is directly harmful to his constituents, while Jess King’s platform will uplift them. As a whole, King’s platform is one of racial, social, and economic justice. It is in the best interest of the people of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the nation itself, for her voice to be heard in the halls of Congress.
It is worth looking at the unique circumstances of her campaign and her district. The 11th district is somewhat tricky to predict. The district itself is technically “new” — having been redrawn and renumbered after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that the current districts were gerrymandered. We do have some analysis from the Cook Political Report, however, a non-partisan institution that examines the leanings of political districts. They have marked the 11th district as a +14 partisan lean to Republican. While this should be taken as a sign of a Smucker victory, newly released polling results beg to differ, with Public Policy Polling showing a nine point difference between the candidates, with Smucker leading. While this gap can seem insurmountable, it is worth noting that a single-digit gap with more than a month until election day is a hopeful sign, considering that this is a heavily red district.
The King campaign has a chance to overcome the odds in a Republican-leaning district of rural Pennsylvania. Despite the influence of PACs and corporations, the endorsements of Senator Bernie Sanders, the AFL-CIO, and Democracy for America demonstrate a unified progressive political backing. Her progressive campaign platform and grassroots activism makes her a true populist. By supporting King, not only do we reject the corporatist, ultra-conservative policies of Lloyd Smucker, but we also go a step further: we send a message that there is another way — a way of social, racial, and economic justice. A way for all of us, no matter where we come from or what we look like. The struggle for this justice can seem impossible at times, but hope remains nonetheless. Let us be that hope. On campus, interested individuals can participate in phonebanking sessions for the campaign every Wednesday from 5-8 p.m in Kohlberg 116.